What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do Next In Your Career

Feeling like you don’t know what you want to do when you grow up? Here’s a five-point plan.

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do Next In Your Career
[Photo: Flickr user Eduardo Zárate]

Think about how many times a year you work on something you really love. For product designer Daniel Kim, it’s about four per year. In 2012, at a mentor’s memorial service, Kim did some tough math. With roughly 25 years left in his career, he had time to work on just about 100 more projects.


That may seem like a lot, but Kim was CEO of online game company Nexon America at the time. As such, he was removed from the design process, which is what he really loved about his career, he says. He wasn’t feeling fulfilled, and the thought of the finite number of projects he could potentially work on during the remainder of his career spurred him to take action. In 2013, he and his family moved to Seoul to take a position with Daylight Design.

“Instead of staying at Nexon and playing the role of an executive at a pretty big company, I decided to look for a different opportunity to roll up my sleeves and work as a designer again,” he says.

Whether it’s lack of satisfaction with work or a nagging feeling of, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but this may not be it,” such uncertainty is common for adults who have achieved some measure of success, says Nicholas Dillon, The Believe Coach.

When you hit that point in your career where you’re a little lost and feel as though you may be on the wrong path, do you just tough it out? Or do you take action to get to answers? How do you know whether you need a small “reset” or a wholesale career reboot? Experts explain how to the find answers.

Take Notes On Your Day

The start of solving most dilemmas is getting specific information about the situation. Start by being mindful about your day, Dillon says. It may be useful to write down your feelings about what is making you unhappy. If the issue is a person with whom you have a conflict or specific tasks that you don’t enjoy, then you may be able to make modifications to improve the situation. However, if you are feeling like you’re truly in the wrong career, more significant changes may be necessary.


Diversify Your Fulfillment

As you hone in on why you’re not feeling fulfilled, you can begin to integrate activities to address those needs in your downtime, says life coach Talane Miedaner, author of the best-selling book Coach Yourself to a New Career. “The good thing is your brain doesn’t actually distinguish that much between work and play,” she says, “so you could do a hobby in the evening, like how a lot of times people de-stress by cooking.”

That’s not to say that a perfect beef Wellington is going to solve your career woes, but integrating creative and tactile experiences can make you happier overall, Miedaner says. A study published in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that having creative experiences outside of work actually improves job performance and creativity at work.


If you’re truly not fulfilled and efforts to make the situation better aren’t working, it’s time to prepare for change, Miedaner says. If you feel you’ve moved away from what you truly want to do, then it’s time to get back in touch with it, she says. Schedule some informational interviews or lunches with people who are happy in their careers and doing things you think you might want to do. Ask questions.

Also, devote some time to building your new network. Attend events or conferences that will put you in the midst of people who are in your chosen field. Get as much exposure as possible to the areas in which you want to move. This will both help you build contacts and see opportunities.

Speaking with people who are working in the field will help ensure you haven’t developed a glamorized version of what you think you want to do without understanding the realities. Some companies are creating internship programs for experienced workers, while Pivot Planet is a company that will help put you in touch with people who work in your chosen field.


Skill Up

Before you make the leap, understand what you need to know and learn it. Shannon Swindle had a good job in higher education with a steady paycheck and benefits, but she was unhappy with how much time her son had to be in daycare.

When she needed to care for her ailing father, she felt the pressure mount and realized that she needed a more flexible, creative setting that would give her more control over her time. Her brothers had recently launched Utter Nonsense, a game company, and wanted someone to help them with marketing. Swindle read everything she could on how to promote and publicize products. She joined the company in 2014 and hasn’t looked back.

“It has changed my life,” says Swindle. “I’ve learned so many new skills. I have gained confidence,” she explains, adding, “Now, I have time to become part of a community.” Swindle also says she has a new set of transferrable skills that she can take to another company if she ever needs to do so in the future.

Make A Doable Plan

Not everyone can jump to a new job without adequate preparation, Dillon says. Creating a plan is important for most people to make a change and still be able to pay for food and shelter.

First, look at the reasons you’re staying in your current job. You may be comfortable or feel trapped. What are the risks that you’re willing to take to improve your situation? How can you overcome some of the obstacles that stand in the way?


Then, look at where you want to go. Do you want to change your career entirely or move to a new job within your area of expertise? You may have transferrable skills or other experience working in your favor that may , Dillon says.

Feeling like you don’t know where you should go next in your career is normal. Get a handle on whether you’re dealing with a touch of burnout or are in need of a major overhaul, says Dillon. While they require different approaches, both can be rectified.

Related Video: Are You Ready to Leave Your Job?

About the author

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites